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Market Insight: Nissan back on the passenger train

Finger on the Pulsar: Nissan’s bold aspirations in Australia hinge on the success of the born-again Pulsar hatch and sedan.

Nissan Australia intends to reverse a trend after years of SUV and ute domination

7 Jun 2012

NISSAN has increasingly become an SUV and ute company over the last decade, which has hardly been a burden as the company has increased sales 50 per cent overall in that period.

Now, it is turning back to passenger cars to drive its bold market push in Australia.

Only a decade ago, Nissan sold more passenger cars than SUVs and utes, but the balance of power changed irrevocably after the X-Trail compact SUV was launched in 2001, and last year Nissan’s passenger cars were outsold by more than four to one.

In the course of the next 18 months, Nissan Australia will launch no fewer than three all-new cars – in the vital light, small and medium segments – as it shoots for importer bragging rights over long-time champion Mazda and hard-charging Korean Hyundai.

The first vital Nissan off the rank will be the Almera light car – effectively a Micra sedan – due in August, and the third will be the Maxima-replacing Altima sedan in late 2013, but in between will come the car that will be critical to Nissan’s local aspirations, the new Pulsar hatchback and sedan.

The importance of the Pulsar cannot be underestimated because Nissan has really struggled in the growing small-car segment since the previous model was replaced by the Tiida in February 2006 – as strikingly evidenced by the massive dip for the company’s passenger-car sales in the accompanying graph.

After getting the Tiida so spectacularly wrong – both from product and marketing perspectives – Nissan Australia will not want a repeat performance with the new-generation Pulsar.

128 center imageFrom top: Nissan Almera, Altima and Navara.

At least the Pulsar should be well-proven globally by the time it gets here because it was first shown in hatchback form in March last year and in sedan form in April this year. Not coincidentally, both forms were revealed at Chinese motor shows.

Given that the Pulsar peaked at more than 22,000 sales and was still doing 18,000-plus before its untimely demise – and that the Tiida has since averaged only 8500 a year, with just 3577 sold last year – Nissan Australia is naturally excited about the volume prospects presented by the Pulsar revival.

Pulsar alone should catapult Nissan’s sales beyond its target of 80,000 next year, provided of course the company can retain volumes on its existing Navara, X-Trail, Micra and Dualis models – especially the latter as the small crossover could potentially be cannibalised by the new small car.

Navara has been the star performer for Nissan since the D40 generation was launched here in December 2005, when the big one-tonne ute immediately replaced Pulsar as Nissan’s top-selling model in Australia.

Last year, Navara 4x4 sales reached 20,162 – topping the 20K level for the first time – with 4x2 contributing a further 1513 units, putting the ute well ahead of the X-Trail (12,089), Micra (9509) and Dualis (9214).

While Nissan’s ‘non-passenger’ sales were considerably boosted further by the Patrol (4660), Pathfinder (2318) and Murano (2246), the ‘passenger’ team led by the Micra light car had minimal support from the disappointing Tiida (3577), the dogged Maxima (1923) and the consistent but niche 370Z sportscar (609).

Nissan Australia’s goal remains number one full-line importer status, eight per cent market share and 80,000 sales – though perhaps not as soon as April 2013 as it has projected in the past.

Ultimately, it believes that 10 per cent share and more than 100,000 units is on the cards, and critical to those aspirations will be not only the Pulsar, but also the Almera and Altima – not to mention new-generation Patrol, X-Trail and Navara within the next two years.

Although based on the Micra platform and likely to be powered by the same 75kW/136Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine as used in the Micra ST-L and Ti, the Almera sedan wears quite different styling.

Having a boot, it is 715mm longer than the Micra hatchback, but it also rides on a considerably (100mm) longer wheelbase and is 80mm lower than the high-riding Micra.

The Altima mid-sizer, meanwhile, will first appear on the racetrack from early next year in local V8 Supercar racing before hitting local showrooms in late 2013.

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